It’s September. It’s hard to process how long I have been here but it’s starting to feel like I have never been anywhere else. I’m lost at sea but learning and grateful. This post is organized by topics, rather than by events, and to be honest these events happened weeks ago but I forgot to post this.
School has not been easy. I feel like I am running in circles trying my best but am incompetent. I’m starting to realize maybe everyone feels this way but we all just pretend we don’t and then we forget? Male teachers are still creepy. Sometimes I walk into the teachers canteen to find only one male who says “hey sweetheart come sit and eat with me” or something like that and I pretend I forgot something in the bilik guru and skip lunch that day. I still watch my students get beaten every single day, and it’s hard not to be judgemental about that aspect of Malay culture. I can finally understand what teachers are saying when they gossip about me in Malay in front of me. Now I respond to them in Malay and they get so shocked and embarrassed. I have to assume I will get no help when I do activities, and teachers even tell me, “you know, I’m not going to help you at all with this, I just do the paperwork.” I still lead assembly for the whole school each week by myself and yep it’s still a shit show. During assembly one time I was handing out lyrics to “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson for students to sing along and one boy said, “Fuck you Miss Clare.” Everyone started laughing and I had to tell the discipline teacher, who then had the student stand in front of the whole school while he beat the shit out of him. I stood in the back and cried.
I have been hanging out with Ms. Tan (the counselor) a lot which has been so wonderful. We go to dragon fruit farms, go to dinner and breakfast together, and both received Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) together at her house. I got to her house and immediately went palm to palm with the doctor. He told me “You have painful periods, your blood is thick. Your body is cold. You eat too oily and spicy foods. Your organs are twice your age. You think about too many things all at once and need to slow down and learn how to focus.” He then had me change into nothing but a sarong and lie down while his wife performed a fire treatment, gua sha scraping, and cupping. He then cracked my body every which way and prescribed a special tea and very expensive mushrooms for me to take each day. As a whole it was an absolutely wild experience, and a great micro representation of this grant for me – the fear, freak out, pain, calm, and euphoria, all in a matter of minutes.
We celebrated Merdeka, or Malaysian Independence from the British and students did a performance acting out a war, with fake guns, gun sounds, and fake fighting while we waved flags and sang songs. I’m not gonna lie it was strange.
We had a Sustainability English Week where we did quizzes, a trash pick-up, a cooking competition, a spelling bee, and a Zumba competition and it was kind of a nightmare, but it happened, and I did most of it alone.
We had our family day at a ranch where we stayed in covered wagons and teepees. Yes, it was uncomfortable on many levels. All of the workers at the ranch had to wear cowboy hats, I won a shoe rack, and everyone who ate the meat got nasty food poisoning.
I feel like my time here is slipping through my fingers. The students and my English Teaching Assistant (ETA) friends are probably the best part of being here, next to the crazy plants and animals and the food. I feel like I am finally starting to build real relationships with my students, cooking, laughing, taking pictures, watching movies like “8th grade” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, having conversations about how hard it is to be 13/14/15/16, boys, exams, stress, families. I love to laugh with them and try to make them feel seen, and special, and worthy.
The ETA friends I have made here I know I will have for life. Meeting people who show up for me so fiercely and have gone through everything with me honestly gives me hope for the world and makes me so excited about life and the future. Soothing relationships that lift me up, and feed me just as much as I feed them. Reading to each other, playing with hair, face masks, crying with each other, laughing on the floor with each other, massaging each other, coming to my house and mopping my floor, taking me to buy ice cream … telling me I need to take care of myself, taking me to buy food, making me egg in a hole, trying on clothes together, laughing, making me feel beautiful.
Alicia and Sarah are part of the Raub Hash House Harriers where they hike with locals in their 50s +, drink beer, and eat dinner. We joined them on the Monday after the waterfall and truly had a unique experience. Hash has many rules…you have to call each other by our hash names, bring your own stool, you can’t cross your legs etc. Peter Pan gave me the nickname ‘Clear’ Alicia’s nickname is ‘Indiana Loh Shi Fun’, and Sarah’s nickname is ‘Florida Long Bean.’ We ate some seriously bomb tofu that night.
We took a spontaneous trips to KL to get our ears pierced and eat salad. I really needed some kind of physical change to match the serious mental and emotional changes I have experienced. That night we went to a speak easy where we had to enter a password and did card tricks for free shots 🙂
AHHH my parents sold our house and it was on the NYTimes? They found a really beautiful new apartment in Jersey City. My mind is exploding. My sister also moved! Most importantly, my mom did an all female NOLS backpacking trip in Alaska and I am so so proud of her!
I have been having a super weird interaction with food for a lot of reasons, and I have been running and working out. Men follow me and call out to me when I run. Groups of men wait at the bottom of the hill I run up and walk down. I blast my music and either hide my face, or give them an evil, fierce stare. There is something satisfying about darting past them, legs pumping, hair flowing with the wind, sweat dripping, heaving my bod up a steep hill feeling strong and #alonebutnotlonely. I had one man who knows where I live and has my phone number after meeting at some Temple call out to me on my run “Teacher! My wife is not at home. Come hang out with me at my home. Come to my home.” I was freaked out because he was on a motorcycle and I was worried he would chase me. I pretended not to hear and sprinted home the long way. In addition to the men, there are rabid dogs/chickens/snakes barking/clucking and growling at me. We were taught to take off our shoe and hold it over our head as a threat but I think if anything ever happened I would just growl back.
I have been so horrified by the news lately…I mean for as long as I can remember at this point. In my free time I have read 6 books, listened to many podcasts and watched probably hundreds of bon appetit videos because I really miss cooking and vegetables.
I will post about my trip to Indonesia soon and then all the craziness that happened this September! Please keep writing me letters they really make everything better and I will try my best to write back. Love to allll and please take care of yourself ❤
ClareAbouts is not an official U.S. Department of State publication, and the views and information presented in this blog are entirely my own, and do not represent the Fulbright U.S. Student Program or the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Commission or Malaysia.